Hanley’s Hockey Highlights

The Penguins have started their season quite well. Can they continue their hot streak?

Sean Hanley, Intro to Journalism Contributor

     Not many people had high expectations for the Penguins coming into the season, with star players like Sidney Crosby (wrist), Kris Letang (COVID), Jeff Carter (COVID), Brian Rust (lower body), and Evgeni Malkin (knee) hurt or in COVID protocol. But with the help of some of their depth players stepping up, they are off to a hot start at 3-1-2, with their only loss coming in their most recent game to the defending back to back Stanley cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. This loss also came off the back of a very strong performance of 28 saves on 29 shots from one of the best goalies in the world, Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Tampa roster is a loaded one, and one that not many teams can beat. The Pens lost 5-1, with two empty net goals going in Tampa‘s favor and many posts hit and disallowed goals for the Pens. The Pens beat the Lightning earlier in the season 6-2 on the back of players like Blueger, Boyle, Heinen, Rodrigues, and Rust all with goals. So the pens most recent loss was fueled with the taste of revenge for the lighting.

     The Pens strong preformance in the absence of their stars have earned them a total of 8 points and 4th in the Metropolitan division. This strong early season performance is fueled by some of the players that wouldn’t normally see this type of usage if the stars were in the lineup stepping up. Players like rookie Drew O’Connor with 5 points thus far this season, Evan Rodrigues who also has 5 points this season for reference he tallied 14 points all of last season, and Dantion Heinen who oddly enough also has 5 points this season and had 14 points all of last season. Players like these are stuffing the stat sheets with their increased opportunities. Even some of the players we know and love like Marcus Petterson are shining as he looks like the Pens number one defenseman in the absence of Letang.

     Another player that has been shining at the start of the season is goaltender Tristain Jarry. The pens play style with the improvised lineup has been to get up in the game early and play in front of the strong goaltender. This game plan was evident in their 7-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. This win was a surprise to many fans in the hockey world, as the Leafs are one of the most star-studded rosters in hockey. They feature players like the generational goal scorer Austin Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Morgan Reily and solid goaltending as their goaltender, Jack Campell set an NHL all time record of shutouts to start a season at 11 which is an amazing feat. 

     The Pens were doubted coming into the season even with their stars, as the consensus power ranking for them was 21st in the league behind unproven teams like the New Jersey Devils who finished (28-29-12) and the Chicago Blackhawks who finished (32-30-8) last year. For reference, the Pens finished (40-23-6). With a lot to prove in the 2021-22 season, many people believe that the Penguins will regress due to their aging stars. With strong early season performances from some of the young players, the Pens hope that they can keep it up throughout the season and with them adding their star power back hopefully soon, make one last ride with their current core.